Workers paid in food as Yangon construction ban continues

Building professionals, including expatriates, are at risk of dismissal within weeks as major construction sites have been shuttered by a continuing review, developers say, while workers are being paid in food and related industries are starting to feel the pinch.

The freeze on large-scale construction, ordered by the regional government, has forced a widespread shutdown throughout Yangon.

When the National League for Democracy government took office it ordered the review of building permits for all projects of nine floors or higher to determine which will go ahead – even those already under construction.

More than 200 high-rises had received varying levels of approval under the previous administration, according to the building engineering department of Yangon City Development Committee. More than 60 of those projects have already been granted permits to start construction, while more than 120 projects are already being built.

Mason Ko Myint Htay, who works on a site in Thirimingala Street, Kamaryut township, said, “The contractor is still giving us rice and oil, but they can’t pay daily wages in full during the suspension. It’s not easy to find another job. Friends of mine from other sites are still waiting for something to change because this is not a good time to find new work. We can’t send money to our families back home.”

U Kyaw Kyaw Soe, administrative director of System Engineering, said he is unable to pay his staff. “My sites have also been stopped. I employ more than 100 contract staff on piece-work because [external] construction is complete, but we can’t pay them. It’s not easy for them to move to other sites. We don’t know what we will do for the long term.”

Developers are starting to wonder how long they can continue to pay skilled workers.

“Professional staff are hard to find. We employ them as contractors to keep them from looking for jobs elsewhere,” said aluminium frame contractor Ko Than Naing of the Hein Htet Group. “We’re still paying their salaries even though we’ve stopped construction operations, from the money we receive from the contracting companies. But if this goes on for more than two months, we will have to let them go.”

A high-rise site can employ from 600 to 1000 workers, and still more could be working for sub-contractors. The freeze also affects highly paid expatriate technicians, as well as labourers.

Developer U Than Naing said, “On our site, we spent millions of dollars a month to bring back skilled Myanmar workers from Singapore on a long-term basis. We have to think about hiring local experts. Although we’ve stopped building, salaries and bank rates keep going up. We’re doing what we can for the workers.”

The building ban is also having a knock-on effect on related businesses dealing in sandstone, ready-made concrete and other construction materials, based in industrial zones.

Asia Concrete Products admin director U Tin Maung Tun said, “We sell concrete mix. Our sales have fallen by half. When construction was stopped, prices also fell. We stopped taking materials from the sandstone sellers, and now we operate only with the materials we have. The stone and sand trading centres are worse off than us, and daily labourers are also in trouble. It’s getting hard to pay salaries. I hope we can reopen soon.”

U Than Htay, chief of the YCDC engineering department (building), said yesterday that it is hard to say when the freeze will end. “The regional government is analysing the situation. We will inform everyone as soon as they tell us,” he said. Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein was unavailable for comment.


Source: Myanmar Times

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